Spreading the (Wrong) Word about WLS

There are a number of ways for people to try and get to a healthier weight – I tend to talk about bariatric surgery quite a bit because I am a post-op myself, but in my health coaching I also try to help people find the way that works best for them.

Weight loss surgery (WLS) tends to get maligned quite a bit, even though it is a time-tested method of maintaining long term weight loss. So it is always kind of nice when a prominent figure is open to discussing the success they have personally had with their WLS experience. But is having these celebs putting themselves out there, putting their message out there a good thing or not so good? How’s the saying go – any publicity is good publicity…?

rexryan

Jets Coach, Rex Ryan, is one of the latest such celebs to start coming out, making the media rounds (see the video below), and talk about their experience with WLS, in this case he had gastric banding – specifically the Lap Band brand. See, there’s a few companies out there making gastric bands, but the Lap Band by Allergan is sort of the Kleenix of the WLS world, so their name gets used in a generic fashion quite a bit.

As a guy, I’m especially aware of when other guys start talking about this issue. We’re in the VAST minority when it comes to stepping up and getting help for the treatment of obesity. So while I can appreciate that someone like Rex is out there talking about this, and how it may encourage someone else to seek the help they need… after listening to this bit he did on this “Health Talk”, I can’t help but wonder if they’re doing more harm than good.

For example…

In the video linked above, at about the 4:00 mark Rex says the following when asked about his decision to have surgery, and specifically his choice of surgery type…

“You’re going to lose weight with all of them, but the thing that was important to me, number one, I wanted to come through surgery… without complications. That was a given, so one was completely out.”

He made this comment as a direct comparison of the Lap Band to the RNY. Now, I’m not just jumping on this because I had RNY myself… my problem here is that he is insinuating there would be no risk of complication with gastric banding. Really? I mean, no matter which surgery you are having, it’s still surgery. You are being put under, you are being operated on. There is a risk of complications.

Sure, I think statistically speaking banding may be slightly lower than the others, but all of them… when done by an experienced surgeon at a center of excellence, have VERY low risk of complication. I think a much better message here would be that WLS in general is a very safe surgery. Insinuating that he chose one surgery over another because he didn’t want complications is very mis-representative of real life.

Then there was this…

“The, um, and then as I later studied, the other two don’t guarantee you’ll have sustainable success and that’s something that I want. And that’s something that I want. I’m not going to lose the weight and have the thing come back again. And so to me there was only one choice, and that was the Lap-Band.”

::sigh::

Look, when it comes to picking a surgery, the number one thing I tell people is to pick the one they believe will work for them, because you can make any of them work, and you can regain with any of them. Period. Yes, there are those out there that will argue over the statistics of one surgery over the other. And yes, there are lots of studies that can support just about any position you wish to take. But the mental factor in this is huge (pun intended), and I truly believe any of the surgeries can help you realize sustained weight loss. And I just as truly believe that regain can happen with any of these surgeries. If anyone tells you that you are guaranteed to keep your weight off with any of these procedures – they are not dealing in reality.

Here’s another “fact” that Rex threw out there.

“The facts are, I had surgery in the morning, I was home in the evening, and I was at work full-time the next day.”

I’m not calling Rex a liar. Yes, gastric banding is the least invasive of the WLS procedures. Yes, they are more and more often being done out-patient. And yes, I suppose he could have spent a full day back at work the next day. But I would bet he did little more than lay around… maybe even napped… and probably didn’t get much done in the way of actual work. I mean, c’mon… yea, it’s not very invasive, but it’s still a pretty major surgery. I went back to work, very part-time, 1 week after surgery. I felt fine, but I was still fighting the effects of the anesthesia and just those few hours at work wiped me out. Again, I just feel this is an irresponsible and unrealistic representation.

Now aside from the surgery itself, there’s the message of life after surgery. I am very vocal about telling folks that the ONLY thing my surgery does for me at this point is help control how much I can eat at any given time. It does nothing to control how often I eat, or what I eat. Ok, yes, I know there are folks that literally can’t eat certain foods after surgery for a number of reasons. But realistically, for the vast majority, there are very few things we can’t eat. It comes down to what we choose to eat. Here’s Rex’s take on this…

“The one thing you’ll get, is when you have your adjustments, and I think this is what separates it from the sleeve and other things. You can loosen the band or you can loosen the band depending on what you want to do. That’s the way it works. Hey, I need it a little looser. I’m going on vacation. I’m going to Italy. I want to eat.”

Ok, I will admit. I don’t know what his typical diet is like. And I can understand the feelings behind wanting to cut loose a bit. It’s a realistic feeling. But is that a recommended thing for folks with bands? Getting fluid taken out so you can purposefully eat more? Ok, in the case of pregnancy… yea, I can see it. But because you’re going on vacation? A healthy relationship with food is critical to long term success… no matter how you chose to lose weight. Is choosing a weight loss treatment based on the fact that you know you can cut loose when you want really a step in that direction?

I don’t want to entirely knock Rex here. He did have a constructive thing or two to say…

“There’s a lot of guys that can perform the surgery, but you need the follow-up care. And that’s critical.”

and

“You’re going to eat like a human. You’re going to eat less and be satisfied.”

Unfortunately, this was at the point where he was touting lapband.com. Again, I’ve got nothing against the band, I’ve got nothing against Allergan.  But this was not a news story. This was not a human interest story. This was a commercial. One that I believe spread some potentially serious mis-information.

There tends to be a lot of… hero-worshiping in the WLS community when it comes to celebs who have had surgery. There is often outright anger when certain celebs do not speak openly about their surgery. And in this case, I’m very unsure of how to feel.

While I’m grateful that someone in Rex’s position is so willing to open up about his struggles, I also can’t help but question the motivation here, and be somewhat… well… fearful… of what damage this type of mis-information can do. I don’t know if Rex is or was ever a paid spokesperson, if he is… this is even more damaging because it’s not being made clear. People bashed Paula Deen last year for her signing up to tout diabetes drugs, but at least she’s been up front about it.

I don’t know. Am I being overly critical? Is any message about the option WLS provides a good one? Or in the long run, do these quasi-commercials do more harm than good?

Watch the video for yourself, let me know what you think.

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